Wendy Vardaman


Since writing a dissertation on the representation of home in autobiography many years ago, I have been interested in the capacity of "small" places to contain significance, despite the fact that women's lit was often dismissed, even when I was getting my Ph.D., for its "limited" scope and lack of significance. Many of my poems are about women's lives, most employ domestic themes and images, and some, like this piece, juxtapose the domestic to the "wider" world in order to explore the dynamic relationship between them.



The Mother-Daughter Wars, or The Cuban Missile Crisis

Working sixty hours a week
on office accounts, fingers striking the 10-key like
well-aimed missiles, morning to night
and through the lunch hours as its tape unspooled, her mind’s
tape unwinding, too,
considering the problem in 1962
of how and when to leave a no-account
husband whose faults
included drinking, womanizing, over-
spending. They could never get ahead, no matter how much over-
time she put in. So it’s no surprise that when she turns up pregnant
it’s as welcome an event
as any other sexual disease or warhead appearing on your door step one night.
Or that she ducks
and covers behind her desk
for nine months, first to arrive,
last to leave.
Or that she practices Containment: squeezes
even through the final days
into a full-length rib-flattening, breath-tightening, body-armoring girdle,
and always a little
heavy in the middle, manages by skipping
lunch to lose weight so that in the end, on the morning
when she straightens her desktop’s
tacks and clips,
phones her president-for-life husband to pick her up then takes
the year’s two-weeks,
no one’s the wiser,
including my mother,
who on the last day of this crisis, delivers me
while the world waits,
holding its breath to see who’ll blink at the earth’s thick waist,
as a world-class philanderer and a drinker,
both spendthrifts, bring us all to the brink.



Wendy Vardaman, Madison, WI, has a Ph.D. in English from University of Pennsylvania and a B.S. in Engineering from Cornell University. Co-editor of Verse Wisconsin, her poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Poetry Daily, Breathe: 101 Contemporary Odes, Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory, Letters to the World, Poet Lore, qarrtsiluni, Mezzo Cammin, Nerve Cowboy, Free Verse, Wisconsin People & Ideas, Women’s Review of Books, Rain Taxi Review, Rattle and Portland Review. The author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press, 2009), she works for a children’s theater, The Young Shakespeare Players.